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Religious leaders voice concern over Sri Lanka crisis

Tensions rise in the jittery nation as 19 people including military personnel are injured in a bus explosion

Religious leaders voice concern over Sri Lanka crisis

Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa waves to supporters on Feb. 12 after his party's victory in local elections. (Photo by Ishara Kodikara/AFP)

Published: February 22, 2018 11:20 AM GMT

Updated: February 23, 2018 03:59 AM GMT

Fears are mounting, including among religious leaders, that Sri Lanka's political crisis could bring about an economic downturn and halt delicate reconciliation efforts between the Sinhalese and the minority Tamils in the nation's fragile post-war peace.

Those fears were confirmed when 19 people, including 12 army and air force personnel, were injured in a pre-dawn explosion on a bus, the military said without ruling out a terror angle.

The explosion took place around 5.45am on Feb. 21 in the Kahagolla area of Diyatalawa when the bus was en route to the military base town of Diyatalawa from the northern peninsula of Jaffna. The bus was heavily damaged and the injured were hospitalised.

"The explosion cannot be ruled out as an act of terrorism as yet. An explosive substance inside the bus may have been the cause. The cause can be ruled out only after the government analyst inspects the scene," an army spokesman was quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror.

Sri Lanka is facing political turmoil after President Maithripala Sirisena's party was thrashed in local elections by his predecessor and bitter rival Mahinda Rajapaksa but he has resisted opposition calls for a fresh general election as his term has two years left.

The country's two ruling parties said on Feb. 21 that they would continue their national unity government.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's center-right United National Party (UNP) and Sirisena's center-left Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) were routed by a party backed by former president Rajapaksa, plunging the government into crisis.

Rajapaksa, who crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels in a 26-year civil war before he was ousted in 2015, called for parliament to be dissolved and a snap election to be held.

Since the Feb. 11 vote, Sirisena has been in talks with Wickremesinghe's party as well as opponents led by Rajapaksa on forming a new government.

Buddhist monk Thibbatuwawe Sri Sumangala Thera of the Malwatta Chapter warned that the political situation is obstructing cohabitation and reconciliation among the people. 

"Fulfil the pledges given at the 2015 presidential election and general election," said the monk in a letter to the president and the prime minister.

"If the confusion after the local government elections continues, the collapse of the state administration and an economic downturn are inevitable and all the parties should work together to avoid such an outcome."

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, said political parties should stop fighting and unite with the president to solve problems.

He said Sirisena, who had the people's mandate to rule the country for five years, should be supported by all parties to continue for the rest of his term.

"At this moment politicians of all parties should shed their differences and unite to solve the current issues. The chief prelate of the Malwatta Chapter made a clear appeal on this, and similarly we too want to make the same appeal," Cardinal Ranjith said.

All political parties must unite behind Sirisena, he added.

"We are working on the motion passed in parliament and we have not rescinded it. And I don't think there is a need to cancel that," Wickremesinghe told parliament, referring to the motion passed by the two parties in September 2015 to form the national government.

The secretary of Sirisena's party, Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, also said the agreement between the two parties to work together still stood and had not been withdrawn.

Analysts said the remarks from the parties eased the negative sentiment over a possible change of government.

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